“History4: Close To You” Mid Series Review (Ep.3 to 14)

I went into this show with zero expectations and although it has been a rollercoaster ride, HIStory4: Close to You certainly can’t be exuded for its storytelling or direction.

The only reasons for sticking to this show is my absolute love for the main lead couple Li Cheng and Teng MuRen. Their romance isn’t without loopholes, but at least it is a sweeter and milder version than the misogynistic “Taboo Stepbrothers” cliché that is being built up into a viable stereotype. While two consenting adults have every right to continue being in a relationship, this show touches on some important questions-

● Can two straight men who are faking a relationship to impress a fujoshi, end up falling in love instead?

● Can non-consensual sex and emotional blackmail be considered as the basis for a healthy relationship?

The pacing in the initial episodes is indeed slow, but it manages to herald the storyline towards greener pastures in the succeeding episodes. Although the script writing doesn’t seem rushed and proper development is shown for both relationships, there are certain equations in play that leave you confused. Let’s review the current episodes and understand how the character’s lives is shaping up!

As Li Cheng and Teng Mu Ren begin a farce drama to impress Li Cheng’s crush Liu Mei Fang, they end up having disagreements on who will be the top or bottom in their fictional relationship. As rumors spread about their romance, the company’s Vice President drugs Mu Ren during an office party and tries to assault him. Li Cheng reaches on time to save Mu Ren from his clutches, but the drug leaves Mu Ren sexually frustrated. As he watches his friend masturbate under the effect of the drug, Li Cheng is left entranced. He starts experiencing unknown feelings for Mu Ren. Afraid of the consequences, Li Cheng grows distant; but slowly he accepts his feelings and starts pursuing Teng Mu Ren. Mu Ren doesn’t remember much of that ungrateful night and as such Li Cheng’s sudden closeness perplexes him. They both grow through phases of denial and separation before reconciling. It is also revealed that Ye Xing Si’s stalker is his stepbrother, Fu Yong Jie. On his birthday, Yongjie rapes XingSi and films everything. While Xing Si reels from the shock and distances himself, Yong Jie uses emotional blackmail tactics to mislead Xing Si. As the story progresses, Xing Si learns more about his brother’s obsession and experiences conflicting emotions.

The Straight Couple’s Descent into Romance

When I first read the premise for this storyline, I was amused with the cliché subplots. I wasn’t expecting much (after watching the Thai BL debacle “The Shipper”), but this pairing has proved me wrong. It has nothing to do with the mediocre script that needs massive retelling. The beauty of this romance lies in the variant characterization and their subsequent poignant romance. Li Cheng and Teng MuRen are polar opposites and yet they fit together like odd pieces of a puzzle. Li Cheng is insanely protective of his delicate friend, so much so that he punches the hell out of Fu Yong Jie (for mistakenly assaulting Mu Ren). Although their fake relationship sounds quite convoluted, Liu Meifang does steer this ship into the right direction. In their attempts to misguide her, Li Cheng and MuRen have major disagreements on the perceived roles of Top and Bottom (it’s pretty hilarious because they aren’t actually in a relationship). Despite being angry, they are each other’s touchstones. As such, Li Cheng is the only person on MuRen’s mind when the evil Vice President tries to sexually assault him. Li Cheng on the other hand not only rescues Mu Ren but also spends the entire night helping his friend (while Mu Ren is in a drugged state). This obviously changes the dynamics of their friendship.

Watching MuRen’s sensual expressions while he masturbates changes Li Cheng’s perspective entirely. At first, it might seem like attraction but because they have deeper connection than that, Li Cheng slowly recognizes his feelings for MuRen and accepts them. I really enjoyed watching this tug of war because both seem to react to this situation in the exactly similar fashion. Their relationship goes through four stages- Confusion, Denial, Acceptance and Confession. Both are confused with the new-found feelings. While Li Cheng fears the loss of their friendship, Mu Ren is scared of the sudden change in his sexuality. They both vehemently deny their feelings before accepting their love for each other. In both cases, jealousy becomes the deciding factor (Li Cheng’s friend Gill and MeiFang) which slowly leads them to acceptance.

The current episodes focused on their reconciliation and I’m enjoying this phase far too much. I’m also in love with Li Cheng’s characterization. While Mu Ren is the untouched “Ice Prince”, his cold attitude thaws when faced with Li Cheng’s sunny disposition. Above all, Li Cheng always makes sure that Mu Ren is comfortable with his actions. Like the morning scene where he reconfirms that Mu Ren remembers their late night confession before kissing him passionately. I’m enthralled by their overall dynamics and although this romance offers nothing new, watching Li Cheng fall in love with Mu Ren is surely an enjoyable experience. Actors Charles Tu and Anson Chen are really comfortable with each other. In their recent IG live, they readily accepted that they had improvised on the morning kissing scene (there was only one kiss in the script, but they decided to add their own sensual touch). The hesitancy followed by the release of pent-up tension certainly uplifted the mood. We must also appreciate Mu Ren’s daring attitude at the office when he grows disgruntled with the rumors and kisses Li Cheng to officially announce their relationship. While Mu Ren did spend alot of time hiding from his true emotions in the past, his open acceptance is kind of refreshing. Looking forward to this romance, simply because Charles Tu and Anson Chen are adorable together!

The “Stepbrother” Taboo Romance

This love story is a debacle from the start and I keep wondering about the significance of its inclusion. We have two stepbrothers bought up in a loving environment where the elder brother (Ye Xing Si) dotes on his younger brother (Fu Yong Jie). The small kid becomes attached to his elder brother with time. Slowly the attachment grows into something more substantial and that’s where Yongjie’s feelings turn into obsession. While I wasn’t expecting anything mind-boggling from this romance, I absolutely did not expect the non-consensual scenes. I was left flabbergasted, when Yongjie cleverly gets XingSi drunk (because he knows XingSi’s tolerance levels), then proceeds to undress him while filming the entire ordeal. XingSi wakes up to the devastating reality that he had sex with his younger brother, proceeds to blame himself for the happenings until the said brother reveals his true colors.

I’m honestly shocked with Yongjie’s behavior because he neither shows remorse nor feels any guilt. Yongjie is majorly portrayed as a hard-headed individual who loves to manipulate the situation according to his will. So when XingSi tries to distance himself, Yongjie blackmails him by trying to jump from the terrace of their office compound. Xing Si does rescue him and that leads to more complicated circumstances. Yongjie blatantly uses Xingsi’s caring nature to his advantage. At times, I really want to dig into Yongjie brain and figure out the landmine that lies underneath. On the surface he looks cold-hearted and reproachful, but his obsession with XingSi is undeniable. So much so, that even his own mother finds it difficult to rein in control on her son. Although XingSi did confirm that they had sex that night, we never got to watch the video in entirety. Did Yongjie really take advantage of his unconscious brother? Is he really that depraved? Or is this one of the subplots where he is fooling both his brother and his parents, so that they would accept XingSi’s sexuality?

Although their interactions in the first half were entirely painful, the recent episodes portrayed Yongjie’s love and affection for XingSi. He wants XingSi to return home (quite unnecessary because he is a grown up adult who can stay with his friends). I think the whole premise of “Bringing Xing Si home” relates to their father accepting XingSi’s sexuality. Yongjie understands that Xing Si left home because he didn’t want to disappoint their father. As such, when he reveals his feelings for Xing Si in front of their father, I wasn’t surprised. It seems that Yongjie has a carefully crafted game plan in mind. I’m hoping for two things in the future episodes-

● While he is good at imparting mature advice to his friends, Xing Si is very easily influenced or swayed by other people’s emotions. I want him to be more decisive. I’m happy that his Father is slowly coming to terms with XingSi’s sexuality and this change might be partly attributed to Yongjie’s devious plans. But, I’m hoping that XingSi doesn’t get carried away and makes a collective decision.

● Yongjie is an utterly unpredictable character. Although I’m not sure how far he went that night, I’m really hoping that he didn’t rape his own brother. If he did, I’m hoping that he actually shows some remorse and feels guilty for taking the decision out of Xing Si’s hands.

Overall Impression

I won’t say that this show is phenomenal because the script certainly needs a fresh breath of life. But the romance between the main lead couple Li Cheng and Mu Ren certainly makes this drama, a worthwhile watch. Despite the numerous loopholes that are glaringly obvious, their sweet romance will tug at your heartstrings. I’m not a huge fan of non-consensual sex that gets morbidly romanticized, so I’m still reserving my opinion on the “Stepbrother Romance”. Xing Si’s Father is just coming to terms with his sexuality. So I’m unsure of his reaction to their blossoming relationship. I don’t want their romance to inevitably damage XingSi’s relationship with his Father, which is already quite unsteady. How will the scriptwriter handle this delicate angle? Looking forward to watching the next week’s episodes where the storyline will add more interesting twists!

Rating- 3.5 out of 5

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